Paella is one of those dishes that look and sound complicated when they really are not. I have to admit that even I am intimidated by the damn dish particularly since everyone in my family claims to have the real recipe for Spanish paella. Their paella is the best paella ever cooked, so when I make mine, I make sure not to invite them, so I won't have to hear how theirs is different and much much better.
Paella is really a rice dish, very similar to risotto, except you throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Long considered the national dish of Spain, a good paella will have chicken, pork, chorizo, a combination of shellfish such as shrimp, mussels and clams, zaffron, tomato paste, peas, pimiento slices and sometimes, white asparagus spears. These are the basics but not necessarily all of the ingredients you can add to a mixed paella. Now comes the arguments, some will add cider, others beer, and still others white wine. There is always the jerk who claims it can only be made with champagne!
I am giving you a recipe for a "starter" paella, very simple, economical and not complicated to make. I just want you to get your feet wet. Later on we'll talk about making it fancier.
For spring and summer, I prefer to serve a late Sunday lunch instead of an early dinner, or supper as they call it down here. This is the time of the year when I like to cook hearty rice dishes such as paellas and risottos. To me, rice dishes are really for lunch, they are too heavy to be enjoyed and properly digested late at night.
3 1/2 cups chicken or fish stock or combo of both
Pinch saffron threads
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces Spanish chorizo or other cooked or smoked sausage
2 teaspoons smoked paprika (pimenton)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 cups short- or medium-grain rice, preferably paella rice (valencia) or Arborio
1 cup peas (frozen are fine)
1 jar pimento slices
1/2 lbs peeled shrimp
Cuttlefish or monkfish (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Warm the stock with the saffron in a small saucepan. Put the oil in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, cook the chicken until deeply browned on both sides, then add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Add the chorizo, paprika, wine, and tomato purée; bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice, scattering it in the pan as evenly as possible, cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s shiny, another minute or two. Carefully add the warm stock and peas and stir until just combined, then tuck the shrimp into the top before putting in the oven.
3. Put the pan in the oven and bake, undisturbed, for 15 or 20 minutes. Check to see if the rice is dry and just tender. If not, return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes. If the rice looks too dry at this point, but still isn’t quite done, add a small amount of stock or water. When the rice is ready, add the pimientoes, turn off the oven and let it sit for at least 5 and up to 15 minutes.
Paella usually has a layer of toasted rice at the bottom of the pan. This is considered a delicacy in Spain and is essential to a good paella. The toasted rice develops on its own if the paella is cooked over a burner or open fire. If cooked in an oven, however, it will not. To correct this, place the paellera over a high flame while listening to the rice toast at the bottom of the pan. Once the aroma of toasted rice wafts upwards, remove it from the heat. The paella must then sit (most recipes recommend the paella be covered with a towel at this point) for about five minutes to absorb the remaining broth.
4. Before serving, sprinkle with parsley.
Adapted from The Way to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman